It's pretty easy to see how Sedona earned its name as red rock country. Even just driving around the area you'll be blown away by the stunning red rock formations and spectacular landscape views. However, the best way to experience all Sedona has to offer is by hitting the trails. We recently visited for three days in January and were able to complete four different hikes - each one more jaw dropping than the next. Keep reading to discover my picks for can't miss hikes.
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Important things to know:
Before hitting the trails in Sedona there's a few important things to know. The first being the weather. We were there in January and while the temperatures were certainly warmer than our home state of Michigan, the early mornings and evenings after the sun went down could get quite chilly. I highly recommend packing multiple layers, including a warmer jacket of some kind, so it's easy to remove or add clothing when you're out on the trails. I would also suggest bringing a good pair of hiking boots (these are my favorite). They made a huge difference for me in terms of traction and being able to scale some sections that required scrambling on the rocks. My husband was wearing normal sneakers and he commented a few times how it was slippery because of the red dirt that coats the rocks.
Another very important thing to keep in mind is the time of year you decide to visit. We chose to go during the winter which is Sedona's off season and did most of the hikes during week days which was the best decision we made. We never struggled to find parking (I've heard folks waiting hours in line for trailheads) and since we started early in the morning we were typically on the trails with only a handful of other people. Most people will also rave about a sunrise or sunset hike. If you have your heart set on this I would be sure to pack a headlamp or flashlight - we didn't opt to hike at these times as we didn't want to be stuck on the trails without the sunlight, but I can totally see how it would be a beautiful experience.
Hike #1 - Cathedral Rock
1.2 mile out and back
Access off of Back'O'Beyond Road
Two small parking lots that fill up quick
Red Rock pass required (machines available for purchase on site; $5/day or $15/week)
I have to choose my favorite hike first! If you're only able to do one hike during your trip to Sedona, I would make it this one. However, I should also warn that this was the most strenuous hike we did with 740+ ft elevation gain it's rated as moderate to difficult. There were lots of portions where scrambling up the rocks was necessary and some where near vertical climbing is required. Don't let this scare you away though - the trail is well marked and there are foothills carved into areas which make it easier. This is one hike that good shoes definitely make a difference. While this is a short hike, you are going at a pretty slow pace the whole climb so it does take longer than you might think. But when you do make it to the end of the trail, the views here are 100% worth it. The most famous photo spot is along the ledge to the right of the end of trail sign. But don't miss the opportunity to follow a side trail to the right for another amazing vantage point.
#2 Devil's Bridge
4.2 mile out and back
Parking at Mescal Trailhead on Long Canyon Road (see below)
No Red Rocks Pass required
Devils Bridge is another hike that you won't find anywhere else and features the largest natural sandstone arch in the Sedona area of the Coconino National Forest. This is a very popular hike and another one that you will want to start early to avoid crowds. We began hiking around 8 a.m. and were one of around four groups at the top. If you choose to come later in the day you'll have to deal with tour groups and could have very long lines to get that signature photo.
There are a few ways to access this trail which can be a bit confusing. If you don't have a 4x4 vehicle (I'm talking one made for off roading) you'll want to park and hike to the start of the actual trailhead. Most people choose to park at the Dry Creek Road Trailhead and follow the boring dirt road (which 4x4s drive) to the Devil's Bridge Trailhead. We chose to park at the Mescal Trailhead off Long Canyon Road (use Google maps to find) which connects with Chuckwagon trail and is very peaceful with lots of natural vegetation. Both Mescal and Chuckwagon are very well marked to lead you to the start of Devil's Bridge.
Devil's Bridge itself is relatively easy with a section closer to the base of the bridge where you'll need to climb a couple different rock staircases to make it to the top. At the top you'll likely run into other people waiting for their turn to walk out on the bridge for a photo and everyone we encountered was willing to help snap a pic for others. The bridge itself is much wider than it seems and if you stay in the middle isn't scary at all. You'll want to try and arrive no more than two hours after sunrise for the best photo opportunities without harsh light and shadows.
#3 Bell Rock Climb
1.1 mile out and back
Small parking area at trailhead
Red Rock pass required
We ended up with some extra time to kill on day two in Sedona so this was a bonus hike for us but I'm so glad we ended up doing it. This was a great pick for a short, easy hike that still offered amazing views from all angles. Once you park in the designated lot, the hike will start on a fence-lined dirt path. Closer to the base of Bell Rock, you can either choose to follow the pathway which loops around the base and also connects around the bottom of neighboring Courthouse Butte (4 miles total) or do the Bell Rock climb which goes straight up the rock. We chose the climb and went as far toward the top as we felt comfortable with - there were people farther than us but it started to get a little sketchy with no real marked trail. The top of the rock is a great place to take a break and enjoy the surrounding landscape before heading back down. Overall a quick but rewarding hike!
#4 Fay Canyon
2.6 mile out and back
Parking lot across the street from start of trail
No Red Rocks pass required
We wanted to hike at least one canyon while we were in Sedona and this was a great choice. For the majority of the hike you'll be in the lower portion of the canyon with the towering rocks on either side of you. Once you get to the official end of the trail sign, I suggest scrambling up to the next canyon for the best views and here's where you'll find the little "cave" like area that you see in a lot of photos. There is also a secondary trail which breaks off from the main trail and leads to an arch. Unfortunately we missed this all together so be sure to use your All Trails app for this side hike. The All Trails app also lists this hike as having a waterfall but unless we missed that too, we never saw one. Easy hike and good for all skill levels (some scrambling required after official end of trail but we still saw kids doing it).
I love creating detailed travel guides to ensure you get the most out of your time. On this blog I'll be sharing some of my past trips in hopes that it helps you plan your next adventure. Pack your suitcase you never know where I'll be heading next!
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